Providing health care to rural communities is a nationwide struggle, but in the Ozarks, that struggle is compounded by the rise of opioid use and overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Missouri saw a 40% increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl from 2017 to 2018, and southwest Missouri has the third highest overdose death rate per 100,000 at 9.1 as reported by the Missouri Overdose Rescue and Education Project.
“Nationwide, there’s a decrease in opioid use, but in our area, it’s not decreasing,” says Brandi VanAntwerp, grant administrator at CoxHealth Foundation. “This is likely due to two factors—the slow response to increased availability of naloxone and the lack of a statewide Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Missouri is the only state in the country without a PDMP.” So when Cox received a $1 million grant to be used between 2019 and 2022 to combat substance use disorder and opioid use disorder and help with recovery efforts in rural communities, the team at Cox got to work. Their first step was gathering health care partners around the table including the addiction facility Ozark Center in Joplin, Burrell Behavioral Health, the Jordan Valley Community Health Center and CoxHealth Center Branson. Burrell Behavioral Health actually received a $4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration this past May to make mental health services (including opioid and substance use treatment) affordable for those who need it.